Madonna’s in Africa, but it’s not for a “Holiday.” On April 6, the pop diva helped to lay the first brick for The Raising Malawi Academy for Girls during a special ceremony in Lilongwe, Malawi. The brick was inscribed with the words, “dare to dream,” which is what Madonna hopes the school will inspire Malawian girls to do.
Credited as the woman who has put Malawi on the map, it is hard to believe that Madonna didn’t even know where Malawi was just four years ago. In a 2007 interview, Madonna told Vanity Fair: “A lot of people ask me, ‘Why did you choose Malawi?’ I always say that Malawi chose me.” In actuality, a friend of a friend contacted Madonna about Malawi in 2006, after seeing the star’s fundraising work for Spirituality for Kids.
Located in South East Africa, Malawi is a relatively stable democracy with little history of violence. That said, it is also one of the poorest nations in the world and nearly one million children have lost a parent to AIDS. It is primarily Malawi’s orphan situation that has spoken to Madonna’s heart: “Having lost my mother at such a young age, I felt a close connection to these children.” After her first visit in April 2006, Madonna “returned home knowing the future of Malawi was resting on the shoulders of these orphaned children, and [that she] had to act.”
And act she did. The first thing that Madonna did was enlist the help of her powerful friends, promising to match them dollar for dollar. “I know it’s going to be expensive,” Madonna said in a 2006 interview with TIME, “but I’m not worried about raising the money because my whole thing is, I’ll back it up. I like to go to people and say, I’ll put in what you put in. So there’s a feeling of camaraderie.” (And Madonna still stands strong with her matching promise today).
Madonna then created Raising Malawi, a non-profit organization focused on empowering orphans in Malawi, with Michael Berg. Later that year, Madonna adopted a 13-month-old baby from Malawi (but not without controversy).
Now, four years after her first visit, Madonna is laying bricks at the Academy as part of the three-pronged initiative driven by Raising Malawi. On the foundation’s blog, Madonna writes that “Our academy will educate, protect, and empower 450 young girls who are Malawi’s hope for the future. We will stop the brain drain happening in so many African nations—our students will receive an internationally competitive education while incorporating local values.”
The Academy’s curriculum will embrace Malawian-centered arts in the hopes of preserving the country’s culture — thanks to Madonna’s strong urging — but the heaviest emphasis will be placed on mathematics and science. It is the school’s hope that some of the students will go on to become Malawi’s first female doctors.
The $15 million school is set to open in the next year and Madonna has said “If this school is a success — with God-willing it will be — we will replicate it not only in Malawi but in other parts of the world as well.”
Looks like the world’s “Material Girl” has changed her tune.
Photo Credit: thanks to David Shankbone via flickr